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What could the future hold for our Home Environment?

by | Sep 26, 2020 | Blogs

Our control of the climate, or should I say lack of control, has been well publicised for many years. Governments of all persuasions and multi-nationals have been lampooned for years about their lack of concern for the world’s environment with activism from the likes of Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and of course Greta Thunberg. So just when we start to see a turn in the tide of government and big corporate concern for control of our environment, Covid-19 hits the world hard.

An unexpected aspect of covid-19 though is the severe reduction in travel – this is felt in the cleaner air being breathed with reduced levels of asthma. Birds are being heard in our cities and the level of awareness of our natural environment has shot up considerably.

So although climate change has, at one level taken a back seat again because of covid-19, at another our environment is a real talking point. Many people are saying they don’t wish to go back to the amount of travel and commuting they were doing and others are wanting to keep the real benefits felt by enjoying living and breathing a better environment.

Linked to this is the heatwave we experienced in August 2020 some of the hottest days on record in the UK. Scorching days and tropical nights will be more commonplace in the summers to come.

Covid-19 has made us scramble for social distancing in public places and governments are still uncertain if schools, hospitals and care homes can function effectively as Covid-19 safe spaces.

We have largely relied on our homes as work spaces, for home schooling and as covid-19 safe zones.

Since March 2020 we have largely relied on our homes as work spaces, for home schooling and as covid-19 safe zones. Our homes have become a great deal more than a place of rest, sleep and food. So shouldn’t we now think much more carefully about the importance of what we want our homes to be? How can we make them the best possible environment for play, work, learning, peace, tranquillity and a safe haven?

We expect our governments to invest in our external environment for our wellbeing, so is now the right time to invest in our internal environment for wellbeing in our personal space?

So what could the future hold for our home environment? Our internal environment is ultimately our own responsibility (over and above local building regulations) if you have a modern home. For those of us with older homes, our internal environment is at our total discretion (listed building regulations aside). It is also worth saying that building regulations were introduced to ensure a minimum standardisation of building practice and so shouldn’t be viewed as a high standard or pinnacle of our home’s environment!

So what can we do to improve both new build and existing buildings to modify the way our internal environments are currently setup? How do we change them to cope better for the way we now live, and will live in the future?

Whilst I have yet to see, a one-system revolution in building practice and renovation come to my attention. It is most likely a combination of cutting edge ideas and innovation within the building industry that could hold some answers. So we need to think about the approach we might take towards what type of technology and how that technology could integrate with good building practice for the best possible outcome. We should also consider that introducing the easiest and simplest systems to implement first will build a good foundation towards our end result and that some further enhancing technology may not be necessary in the end or be cost effective as a final design.

The next part of this blog will outline what I think are the basic principles to consider when designing personal spaces.

This might seem overly back to basics but as our personal environment is made of air quality, temperature, light spectrum and sound they are directly linked to our body’s five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

If our senses receive good messages they will help us to perform well and enjoy wellbeing.

Our senses need to work to their best ability in order to optimise our work and ensure the very best in play, eating, sleeping and relaxation. If our senses receive good messages they will help us to perform well and enjoy wellbeing. Only then, once we have the best environment can we expect the best possible physical health, mental health, social and mindful wellbeing.

So I want to suggest how these four factors relate hugely to building design and how we need to consider them in our living spaces.

Air quality – damp, poorly ventilated spaces with high levels of CO2 or with heavy gases like radon all hinder our wellbeing. The wrong gases need to be controlled and reduced for healthy respiration, maximum energy and our mental health. Poor air quality can be smelt in severe cases but the gases that we don’t smell or see are also important to consider in our building designs. Covid-19 and different strains of virus are often present in many of our buildings and vary in concentration, hence only cause infection during high concentration levels.

Temperature – Too hot or too cold a temperature can hugely inhibit activity and reduce us to more static living and working styles. Having the wrong temperature can introduce poor posture and lead to excessive food and drink consumption beyond our dietary needs. Living in the wrong temperature can reduce our mobility, fitness, diet and wellbeing.

Light quality – Too much or too little light, be that natural or artificial light, in a room can influence our subconscious to use or not use spaces. The colour of light is important too with variation in light colour and intensity throughout the course of our daily routines. Just think of the new light bulbs we now buy in Homebase or B&Q – the difference in colour and brightness thus aestheticism between ‘white’ bulbs or ‘warm’ bulbs is huge.

Sound -Too much sound (noise) or the lack of sound in our building spaces has a massive effect on us. It affects our relaxation, enjoyment of entertainment, concentration and clarity of the sounds we hear. The wrong sound environment can cause misunderstanding, impatience with one another and even social isolation in severe cases. Think of trying to hold a conversation in a crowded noisy pub. Poor sound management design in buildings can drive us out of spaces whereas good sound management can welcome us, so it hugely affects our mental health and social wellbeing. As the ageing population increases in size, shouldn’t we be preparing our spaces as our hearing ages? We should consider those people who are hard of hearing, have a learning disability or have attention difficulties and also be inclusive for them.

In part 2 of this blog, I will explore and review some of the new technologies available to help our internal environments create better spaces for our living, working and wellbeing.

Ian Rae is a Suffolk based designer, smart technology expert, engineer and a leading innovator in using building design to promote wellbeing. Ian runs a successful international smart technology consultancy.